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Published: Monday, 7/17/2006

Protesters urge more openness by diocese

BY ERIC LUND
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Claudia Vercellotti of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests attends a protest outside the Toledo Diocese offices downtown with Elaine Boes, far right, of St. Mary's chapel in Kirby, Ohio. Catholics whose parishes were closed last year voiced their concerns about diocese policy along with representatives of SNAP and Voice of the Faithful. Claudia Vercellotti of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests attends a protest outside the Toledo Diocese offices downtown with Elaine Boes, far right, of St. Mary's chapel in Kirby, Ohio. Catholics whose parishes were closed last year voiced their concerns about diocese policy along with representatives of SNAP and Voice of the Faithful.
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Catholics whose parishes were closed last year protested yesterday outside the downtown offices of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Toledo and accused Bishop Leonard Blair of running the church like a corporation and ignoring parishioner input.

About 25 members of United Parishes - an organization of Catholics whose parishes were closed last year and who represented about 10 former churches - joined representatives from the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests and Voice of the Faithful to call for more openness in the diocese, which some speakers said is being run like a dictatorship.

"We need to get the bishop to talk to us. I don't know why he thinks he's God," said Marcia Holtz, a former parishioner of St. Joseph's Church in Sylvania, during the hour-long protest at which participants prayed, spoke, and sang.

Dan Thiel of Upper Sandusky, Ohio, president of United Parishes, said the group wants Bishop Blair to use a more open decision-making process in the future. He said the group also wants the bishop to hear input from the 6,600 parishioners of the churches that have been closed over the past year.

"It's the people [who] make the church," Mr. Thiel said

Esther Mullaney, left, of the closed St. Jude Church in Toledo and Judy Row of St. James in Kansas, Ohio, pray at the rally. Esther Mullaney, left, of the closed St. Jude Church in Toledo and Judy Row of St. James in Kansas, Ohio, pray at the rally.
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Sally Oberski, a spokesman for the diocese, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

In a January letter obtained by The Blade, Bishop Blair told United Parishes member Chris Cremean of Toledo that he respects the group's sincerity, but sees "no point in prolonging a dispute about the theological, canonical, and practical aspects of parish closings."

"I have tried in various ways to reach out to people from closed parishes in the hopes of accomplishing something good that enables us to move forward," he wrote. "However, inasmuch as I do not see a willingness to accept the decisions that have been made, I do not think it would be helpful to meet at this time."

Mr. Thiel said the group has written about five letters to the bishop and has gotten the same response every time.

Members of two former parishes, St. Joseph Church in Wyandot County's Salem Township and St. James Church in Kansas, Ohio, have also recently filed civil lawsuits against the dioceses in an attempt to gain control of church property.

Virginia Hull, a parishioner at St. James for 43 years, said the diocese had taken almost $78,000 from the church when it was closed, and that the congregation wants to reopen the church.

"We don't want to be split up into different communities," said Mrs. Hull in reference to why parishioners don't want to attend other churches.

Twenty-three parishes were closed last July, with the dioceses citing shifting demographics and a priest shortage as reasons for the closures.

According to United Parishes, 34 churches in the Toledo Diocese have been closed or merged.

Contact Eric Lund at: elund@theblade.com or 419-724-6050.



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